21 October 2010


I don't remember when I learned to read, or the first books I read. In fact I don't remember most of my childhood, and so roots of my love affair with books lie foggy and forgotten.

But I do remember the books. The prized, dear books of my younger days crowd my memory and occasionally my thoughts - I cannot imagine forgetting the stories of warrior animals in Redwall or world-striding giants in BFG. Sometimes I actually am sad that I let so much slide by unnoticed, as absorbed in my books as I was: I had only a few friends and almost never socialized as a boy. I barely remember the Grand Canyon, but I remember what I was reading on the way (The Chocolate War). My ambition was never to climb a huge oak or run the fastest mile, but to finish the immense single-volume Lord of the Rings on my mother's bookshelf.

As I grew and read, I went through different ideas of what I wanted to be when I grew up. Brief flights of fancy ranged from marine biologist (I had read a fascinating story about bathyspheres) to short story author (a recurring desire). But always - always - I took it for granted I would continue to read.  After all, why would I stop or slacken the greatest thing there could be?

It's hard to say which is more true: that I have been drawn to books, or been shaped by them. I always had a delight in pure knowledge of the amazing universe - I used to get books of weird facts and exotic trivia, and then demand gleefully of my patient father whether he knew which plant had the largest leaves in the world or how many ants could be in a swarm of army ants. And I also love analyzing the world and people, picking out what is true or false or indistinct.

But I have been reading for literally as long as I can remember: are these traits what drew me to books, or have the books instilled those attributes in me? It is probably some combination of both, but I could never say for sure.

It was not until I finished the last interesting book in the high school library, partway through my sophomore year, that I decided to make some friends. I vividly remember the day. I closed the book, and returned it to the front desk. The air in the library had a distinct odor of mold and old paper, common in Florida libraries that skimp on dehumidifiers. Then I walked across the school grounds to the cafeteria, and sat down at a table with a group of boys that I knew only slightly. I smiled and began to chat: almost within the week we were friends, and would eventually develop the kind of clique that gets together to rent a limo for prom and relentlessly but good-naturedly picks on each other all the time. And  I started going to the public library more.

I began diving deep into the endless blue classics.  Years spent with books on mythology (especially Edith Hamilton's Mythology) and my time in Latin class, as well as a broad base of general reading, gave me leverage into the more dense materials.  Virgil and Beowulf all crowded in with me, joining the legion of children's characters.

When I went on to university, I took a variety of classes, and settled on sociology. My English classes were the fun ones - more like entertainment than school - but the real work, I thought, would be in a social science. As I explained to relatives at the time, full of pompousness (which has faded only slightly): "I will always be reading, so I should study something else. Why go to school for what I will do anyway?"

I don't know when I realized the flaw in my reasoning; maybe it was during the year away from school that came between my semesters at Wake Forest and resumption at the University of Tampa. But at some point, it occurred to me that I had a passion in life, and it was asinine to try to do anything else. Trying to study something else out of a misguided notion of what was the purpose of university was just a waste of that passion.  Sociology was only an interest.  Literature was my soul.

I wanted to be an English professor.

When I finished college, I made ready to go to graduate school. I was encouraged by all my professors, and given every aid. I took the GREs and got paperwork together. But I wanted to "live life" for a bit, as well. I'm not saying that there's anything wrong with a straight shot through (it's certainly simpler and easier) but I felt then, and still do, that travel broadens a person a bit. The world is very large and very magical, and seeing some of it helps put a little of that magic in you.

All the while and as I traveled and experienced the variety of our planet, I read.  A horde of characters traveled with me.

But I didn't want to wait forever.  I wanted to resume study - and soon. So I was ready to go back to school after one year in Korea, and was all set on the University of Canterbury in Christchurch, New Zealand.

Well.  It didn't work out. Maybe you know, or maybe you don't, but suffice to say that fourteen cents can change the course of your life if you're not careful.

So I was delayed.  Little daunted, I started to prepare for the next year.  And a year of planning and saving put me back to where I had been: anticipating shipping off to academia.

Imagine my terror when I heard the bad news about a powerful earthquake in the region - and when I heard about damage done to the school. I'm not an emotional guy, and I handle stress extremely well, but... the level of disappointment would have been hard to handle if there had been a serious problem. I had to wait for a month for assessments and my own re-approval.  I waited and badgered them and waited some more.

But finally.  Finally.  Finally.

I am enrolled for the BaH (first year of the Master's program) at UC, admission ad eundem statum with graduate status.

I'm not a religious man - the opposite, truth be told.  And I don't believe in magic or ghosts or anything like that.  So when I say to you that I hear the cheering of Martin of Redwall and the Big Friendly Giant and Theseus and Odysseus and Beowulf and a thousand others, you know it's metaphorical.

But I swear.  I hear it.